Mindfulness is one of those tools we all have access to.  It’s free and accessible 24 hours a day.  It doesn’t require a prescription, an appointment or medical insurance.  It is truly one of the greatest gifts the human race has been given, but do we truly appreciate it?

I use conscious choice and mindfulness to help my clients connect to their emotional intelligence.  I’ve witnessed many “aha moments” when they realize that their emotional reactions are out of alignment with their goals, ambitions and intentions.  Through practice they learn to recognize their own ability to choose how they’ll react instead of letting their emotions lead the way.

In her Harvard Business Review article, “A Simple Way to Stay Grounded in Stressful Moments,” Leah Weiss explains that mindfulness is less about the mind and more about body awareness. Weiss, a researcher at Stanford Graduate School of Business, offers simple tips that we can use any time to level our heads and stay true to ourselves.

Before responding to a perceived threat, take a single breath.

That’s all you need to do to stop your mind’s chatter and give your body a chance – even if momentarily – to regulate.  If necessary, take a few breaths before you react to something that has hurled you into fight or flight mode.  As Weiss points out, when we’re confronted with the unexpected, we launch into a story in our head that may not be true.  So, take a few seconds to let the shock wave dissipate and consciously choose to let go of the story you’ve made up.  One, or a few, breaths will give you the time you need to realize the reality will probably not be as traumatic as your fantasy.  You’ll return to a calmer frame of mind where you can think through solutions that will serve you and the situation well.

There are probably many opportunities throughout each day to practice this.  For example, when your boss asks you to do something extra as you’re preparing to leave for the day.  It works if a co-worker challenges your suggestions during a meeting or in front of your peers.  It can also be helpful at home when your child announces that he hasn’t begun working on an assignment that’s due tomorrow.

Pay attention to your emotions & their physical manifestations.  

When a stressful situation arises, learn to recognize twinges, muscle tightening or breathing patterns associated with certain feelings.  Do your shoulders tense up?  Do you feel a red hot heat building in your chest?  Does your stomach begin to tighten?  Do your breaths shorten?  Or do you huff and puff like the big bad wolf?

Physical symptoms of anxiety can intensify your feelings of overwhelm.  Everyone’s body reacts differently, so understanding how your emotional triggers present themselves can help you control unwanted reactions before they control you.

Take steps to get your physical responses in check.  If you can, excuse yourself from the situation and find a safe place to calm down and put things into perspective.  What Weiss doesn’t suggest is suppressing the emotions you’re experiencing and I agree.  Instead, if you acknowledge the unpleasant emotion – anger, frustration, jealousy or what ever you’re feeling — it will have less control over you.  Then you can return, level headed and ready to respond with emotional intelligence.

Learn to magnify little pleasures.

We all have those days that feel like everyone is out to get us.  Nothing is working the way it should – our computer, the coffeemaker, our spouse and co-workers are all conspiring against us.  Or, some days are not bad, but they suck the energy right out of you.  That’s when Weiss says its important to revel in the simple pleasure of taking that first sip of coffee, sitting when you’ve been standing too long or slipping out of an uncomfortable pair of shoes.  Simple pleasures provide a powerful reminder to find small joys to celebrate within our daily routines.

Our emotions can sometimes be the enemy.  Learning to manage them can lead to happiness and to success.  Employers want emotionally intelligent employees above all else.  It makes sense.  Employers would prefer to teach you the technical skills and know-how you’re missing rather than deal with emotional meltdowns.

And personally, if you can control your own emotional highs and lows, your journey through life will be less taxing.  This is critical to your every day life, because stress is unavoidable.